New Hampshire court limits what mental health messages are sent to gun background check database

While some New Hampshire lawmakers and mental health advocates say courts should report mental health information to the national database used for gun background checks, court officials say there are limits on what they can report. The information shared during the background check process came to light after a fatal shooting at a New Hampshire hospital last month. The suspected shooter was a previous resident of the facility. News 9 Investigates has been investigating whether mental health information, including involuntary commitments, is reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used for gun purchase background checks. It said courts should be required to report this information, but judicial department officials said that currently courts only report civil protection orders to NICS. These include orders relating to domestic violence, stalking, abuse and neglect. Courts are prohibited from reporting whether a person has been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility because, under state law, those hearings are supposed to be closed. Even federal legal officials say that while courts may make some recommendations, they cannot assume they can do so without more authority from the state. In order to report, courts need the legislature to grant them confidentiality rights. “The Justice Department stands ready to work with other departments to provide any technical assistance to legislators and other officials as they consider changes in reporting requirements,” said Av Harris, a spokesman for the Justice Department. “We will work within the law to implement any changes.” The court sends all criminal dispositions to the Department of Security, but the Department of Security declined to tell News 9 what information they can access or send to NICS.

While some New Hampshire lawmakers and mental health advocates say courts should report mental health information to the state repository used for gun background checks, court officials say there are limits on what they can report.

The issue of sharing mental health information during background checks has been raised in the wake of a fatal shooting at a New Hampshire hospital last month. The suspected shooter was a previous resident of the facility.

News 9 Investigates has been investigating whether mental health information, including involuntary commitments, is reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used for gun purchase background checks.

Some say courts should be required to report this information, but Justice Department officials say currently courts only report civil protection orders to NICS. These include orders relating to domestic violence, stalking, abuse and neglect.

Courts are prohibited from reporting whether a person has been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility because, under state law, those hearings are supposed to be closed.

Even though federal law may suggest something, courts can’t assume they can do so without more authority from state governments, officials said. In order to make such reports, courts need the legislature to grant them confidentiality rights.

“The Justice Department stands ready to work with other departments to provide any technical assistance to legislators and other officials as they consider changes to reporting requirements due to mental health rulings,” said Av Harris, a department spokesman. “We will work within the law to implement any changes.”

Courts send all criminal dispositions to the Department of Security, but the Department of Security declined to tell News 9 what information they can access or send to NICS.

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